The new culture secretary has cast doubt on the future of the government’s plans to sell Channel 4, saying he is reviewing the ‘business case’ to ensure ‘we are still on board with this decision’.
The decision to remove Channel 4 from public ownership was announced during the tenure of Michelle Donelan’s predecessor, Nadine Dorries, who led the controversial move during her tenure under Boris Johnson.
Ms Dorries announced she was stepping down as Culture Secretary following Mr Johnson’s departure earlier this month, with his successor as Prime Minister Liz Truss appointing Ms Donelan as the new Digital Secretary, to Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS).
She told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that Ms Truss’ government was reviewing the “business case” of selling Channel 4.
“We’re looking in particular at the business case for selling Channel 4 and making sure we’re still on board with that decision, and that’s what I’m doing,” she said.
“I’m the kind of politician who bases his decisions on evidence, who bases his decisions on listening and that’s what I will be doing over the next few weeks.
“I will take this approach with regard to Channel 4 and every aspect of my memoir.”
Speaking on BBC Breakfast, when asked if there was ‘a bit of wiggle room’ regarding the sale, she insisted: ‘I think it just means I’m looking at the business case , but I’ll let you know once I’ve done it.
Ms Donelan, who represents the constituency of Chippenham, also addressed the BBC licensing fee, saying she would look at it “as a whole”, as she declined to say whether it could be scrapped.
Appearing on Sky News, she praised BBC and Sky’s coverage of the Queen’s death and funeral.
But she also issued a warning to the national broadcaster about the future of the license fee.
She said: “It’s no secret that I’ve been a long-term skeptic about license fees and that we need to make sure the BBC is viable in the long-term. So I look at this in the trick.
“I’m someone who listens, I’m someone who decides policy based on evidence and that’s what I will be doing over the next few weeks.”
She declined to say outright whether licensing fees should be scrapped, but said rival streamer TV services such as Netflix and Amazon have raised questions about whether “the current model the BBC uses is actually sustainable. long-term and provides that element of choice. to the general public”.
In January, Ms Dorries announced licensing fees would be frozen at £159 for the next two years until April 2024.
She said she wanted to find a new funding model before the current deal expires in 2027 because it is “completely outdated”.
The review was due to start before the Commons summer recess on July 22 but was thrown into doubt after Mr Johnson stepped down as Tory leader.
John McVay, chief executive of Pact, the trade body for independent television and film production companies, said: “The new Prime Minister has made it clear that his priority is to drive growth.
“Privatizing Channel 4 would do the opposite, jeopardizing the future of thousands of UK production companies and jeopardizing the future prospects of a thriving industry across the country.
“It literally makes no sense to try to find a solution to a problem that does not exist and that is why I am delighted that the new Culture Secretary has pledged to re-examine the business case for the privatization of Channel 4.”
A Channel 4 spokesperson said: “Channel 4 looks forward to working with the new Secretary of State as she considers options for Channel 4.”